Calibrating Your Internet BS Sensors in 9 Easy Steps

smartnox_sensor_647_081215044232Friends, Americans, country people, lend me your ears.

You need to get your respective s#%@ together.  Both my right and left leaning friends have bombarded my Facebook and other social media feeds with “news pieces”  that purport one outrageous claim or another.  You know who you are.  You know what I’m talking about.   You all are guilty.

346c10d700000578-0-image-a-81_1463758781999Here is the thing.  The spread of misinformation is dangerous.  It fuels anger, mistrust, inaction, the wrong actions, and a whole host of other really, really bad things.  Every time you spread misinformation on the web a cute baby chinchilla dies and a baby sloth weeps.  If you want those deaths and tears on your hands then by all means continue to do what you are doing.  On the other hand if the suffering of tiny animals is not your thing I can help. (Note: In the spirit of reliable information and transparency the previous statement is not true.  No baby animals will directly be hurt from you spread of misinformation.  This is obviously sarcasm.)  Below is an easy list for you to follow. I have borrowed from several lists put forth from university librarians (here, here, here).  God bless them and their patience with us all.  Once you have moved through the list below you are ready to share the piece on social media.  Just kidding.  Go back to step one and repeat and then share.

1. Who authored the piece?

From Lee College Library, “Look for an “About” or “More about the Author” link at the top, bottom or sidebar of the webpage. Some pages will have a corporate author rather than a single person as an author. If no information about the author(s) of the page is provided, be suspicious. Does the author provide his/her credentials? What type of expertise does s/he have on the subject s/he is writing about? Does s/he indicate what his/her education is? What type of experience s/he has? Should you trust his/her knowledge of the subject? Try “Googling” the author…What kinds of websites are associated with your author’s name? Is s/he affiliated with any education institutions? Do commercial sites come up? Do the websites associated with the author give you any clues to particular biases the author might have?

2. Did the piece cite sources and what kind of sources?

Are the cited sources credible websites, books, and scholarly articles? What kind of sources does the website cite? Are they just political sites with agendas?

3. Who funds or publishes the site? What biases are introduced by this funding? What is the domain name?

From the UW-Greenbay Computing and Information Technology website, “Domains such as .com, .org, and .net can be purchased and used by any individual. However, the domain .edu is reserved for colleges and universities, while .gov denotes a government website. Be careful with the domain .org, because .org is usually used by non-profit organizations which may have an agenda of persuasion rather than education.”

From Lee College Library,  “Do a search on the domain name at http://www.whois.sc/. This site provides information about the owners of registered domain names. What is the organization’s main purpose? Check the organization’s main website, if it has one. Is it educational? Commercial? Is it a reputable organization?”

4. Does the website look like it was designed a three-year old with crayons?

From the UW-Greenbay Computing and Information Technology website, “a well-designed site can be an indication of more reliable information. Good design helps make information more easily accessible.”

5. Is the language inflammatory? IS ALL CAPS USED?  Is it just an angry rant?

Authors striving for objectivity try to leave emotionally charged language out of piece.  Attacks on character are a good warning sign.  In the spirit of Dragnet, “Just the facts.”

6. What is the purpose and agenda of the site?

From Lee College Library,  “Why did the author write it and the publisher post it? To sell a product? As a personal hobby? As a public service? To further scholarship on a topic? To provide general information on a topic? To persuade you of a particular point of view? How to find out: Scan the homepage of the website. Is it cluttered with advertising? Does the page appear to be professionally designed? Is the writing trying to persuade you to buy something?”

7. Is the information accurate and objective?

Did you Google search the information on the webpage? Can you corroborate the information on reliable websites sites?

From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library, “How accurate is the information presented? Are sources of factual information or statistics cited? Is there a bibliography included? Compare the page to related sources, electronic or print, for assistance in determining accuracy.  Does the page exhibit a particular point of view or bias?  Is the site objective? Is there a reason the site is presenting a particular point of view on a topic?  Does the page contain advertising? This may impact the content of the information included. Look carefully to see if there is a relationship between the advertising and the content, or whether the advertising is simply providing financial support for the page.

8. Does it taste like a duck? 

Ok, this one is my own.  Approach everything with a healthy dose of cynicism.  But if it looks, walks, tastes, and smells like a duck…it’s a duck.  If it feels like BS or hyperbole it probably is.  Everyone is trying to sell you information.  Even at the end of the day reputable news sites run on advertising.  They want thing that will make you click to their website. Do yourself a favor a read and evaluate multiple news articles about a current event.

9. Did you actually read the piece you are sharing on social media?

Not just the title, not just the first paragraph, but did you actually read the whole article?  Please for the love all that is sacred do not share until you know exactly what you are sharing.  The “I didn’t read the whole thing” or “I didn’t read it carefully” is not an excuse.

In the spirit of this post also note that I have updated DSN’s about page to give you this information about this website.

 

 

Dr. M (1771 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


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